Researcher from Afghanistan relocates to join McMaster University

M.* is a researcher specialized in anthropology and archaeology in Afghanistan. Until the summer of 2021, she lectured undergraduates at Kabul University as an Assistant Professor. She and other staff and students were part of preserving culturally-significant sites like Gudri Mosque, and uncovering lessons from the past for contemporary urban design. 

She began a master’s program in women and gender studies to better understand the role of women in Afghanistan since the Stone Age, but she had to leave that too, in July 2022, when she crossed into Pakistan to save her life.

A generation of women raised with ambitions in science, education, politics, and social life have watched their country become something unrecognizable since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

The lights went out. Girls can’t go to school past grade six. Women can’t work outside the home nearly without exception. Faces must be covered. Travel alone isn’t allowed. Women who hold onto their rights, or are suspected to want to, can be killed. Last month, someone shot and killed Mursal Nabizada, a female member of Afghanistan’s parliament, in her home in Kabul. 

M. called herself a woman, a feminist, and an academic. But two months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, M. said, “they destroyed my identity.”

She said that in recent decades, women in Afghanistan could dream. They could become engineers, doctors, professors, and entrepreneurs. They could drive, move freely, and represent their country in government. “That is gone now.”

A group of her peers at McMaster University want to help that dream stay intact.  

M. and her partner arrived in Canada in January, and this week she begins a new role as a Research Assistant at the university. 

The effort to relocate displaced researchers to Hamilton is led by McMaster University’s Committee on Students and Scholars in Crisis. The committee works with faculty in need of talented researchers and the wider university community to raise funds. The university has pledged $800,000 to help students and scholars at risk from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other countries.

McMaster linked up with members of the Afghan-Canadian community like Marufa Shinwari, with Lisa Middlemiss, a lawyer at Gomberg Dalfen, and with the TalentLift team to support M. This group mapped out her recruitment, relocation, and arrival – a glimpse of the Canadian will to support talented people from Afghanistan and beyond. Our partners at Miles4Migrants unlocked the last leg of the trip, with donated air miles to fly M. and her partner from Pakistan to their new home.

M. becomes the first to arrive at the McMaster University campus under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), an immigration program that facilitates access by displaced applicants to Canada’s skilled visa pathways. The pilot opens a critical new mobility solution that complements other options like resettlement and is led by both the federal and provincial governments including the Province of Ontario. 

The McMaster community has a vision to grow these opportunities, through its new initiative to support students and scholars around the world whose lives are interrupted by conflict or persecution. Marufa Shinwari, a PhD student at McMaster and a key part of the network supporting M., has a message for them. “Keep fresh whatever dream or plan you have in your life,” she said. “[Your] journey will start again.”

*Name withheld to protect identity. 

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